STATE COLLEGE, PA— Childhood obesity has skyrocketed in the last few years. Most recent stats show that nearly 17% of school-age children are obese. And a 2008 report found that these kids are woefully deficient in the nutrients their growing bodies need most. So what’s the problem?
According to Chrissa Carlson, project leader and gardening educator of the Baltimore City Food Stamp Nutrition Education Project, the answer is easy: Not enough kids are getting their hands dirty at school. She spoke about the challenges and triumphs of helping kids garden at school during the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s 18th Annual Farming for the Future conference in State College, PA, earlier this month.
THE DETAILS: Many schools are equipped with cafeterias that can only warm premade, processed foods, says Carlson. While Baltimore is in the early stages of trying to get better food into the lunchroom, Carlson and her colleagues are already getting things done in outdoor school gardens. The food they grow can’t be used prepared in school cafeterias because of strict codes, but it does give the kids a change to form a relationship with produce by growing it fresh in outdoor classrooms. “Eating habits start early, and kids need help,” Carlson says. “Fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be the side dish, they should be at the center of the plate.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Don’t rely on your school cafeteria to serve as nutritional educators. It’ll take a little organizing on your part, but by finding and working with an enthusiastic principal, school board member, or other administrator, you could be on your way to putting fresh food knowledge in students’ hands.
Here’s how you can get veggies sprouting for kids in your community: